Saturday, May 3, 2008

What stands between me and understanding.

I've never been raped. (Statutory raped like a hundred times! But it was mostly my idea.) I've never been seriously assaulted, sexually or physically. I've never been in an abusive relationship. As I said before, I've never been groped by a stranger.

I've never even really been treated badly. Well, of course I have, but it was always a situation of Dickhead vs. Holly, not of Man vs. Woman; I've never felt that a system was maltreating me because I was female. The problems I've had with institutions--getting sent to collections without ever seeing a bill, endless waits and expenses for professional licenses, getting drop-kicked out of schools and jobs--all would have happened the same way to a man, I'm fairly sure. Maybe it's just my own interpretation of events, but when I get fired or flunked or fined, I tend to think "I'm a moron" and/or "they're morons." I've never had a serious situation in my life where I felt that "this is because I'm a woman" was a good explanation.

Right now I'm working a traditionally male job in an 80%-male company and my coworkers and bosses are entirely respectful. I'm making the same pay as the men in my position and haven't experienced any hazing or harassment or any kind of hostile environment. Nobody treats me like a girl; they treat me like Holly.

These are the things that feminism won for me.

But they're also the things that make it difficult for me to identify with a lot of feminists. When people talk about how hard it is to be a woman I just don't know how to respond because I'm a woman and my life is... not easy, but I think it's no harder than it would've been if I were male. I don't know that; maybe there's some subtle favoritism that would've set Male Holly on the road to fame and fortune by now. And I haven't had kids yet, I understand that can really bugger things up. Still, the bottom line is, as far as I can tell, nothing bad has happened to me because I'm female.

This is just me. I know that other than gender I've got my privilege ducks in a row--white, straight, wealthy family, nice neighborhood, college education, good health--and so on, to my great fortune in real life and great disadvantage in Internet arguments. So when I'm bearing only one major oppressed status, I guess it's no big surprise that I haven't experienced much oppression.

I'm not quite dumb enough to say that sexism doesn't exist. But I think it's losing. It's retreating from politics to pop culture, from institutions to individuals. It's working in concert with other forms of discrimination not because it's all-pervasive, but because it no longer has the strength or legitimacy to exist alone. Is feminism done? FUCK NO. Sexism's influence in the things that really matter is waning but still present (in the field of pro-life, anti-gay, abstinence-only "family values" law particularly), and even in the things that don't matter as much (Cosmo) it's still wrong. Because life for women has become livable doesn't mean it's time yet to declare "we're all equal now!" and go play foosball.

It is, however, time to get some perspective. It's time to realize that you win nothing by exaggerating your own victimhood or claiming that all individual problems are systemic. Above all, it's time to stop saying "It sucks to be a woman," because really (I've been one for like a whole bunch of years now), it doesn't. Being a woman is not yet like being a man, but it does not suck. Part of honoring the women who got us votes and equal-opportunity laws and reproductive rights is continuing their fight; part of it is acknowledging and enjoying the strides we've already made.

I'm a woman, and I'm happy.


  1. I think you make some good points, but I also think that yours is not the typical experience. I am a very small woman (like, five feet tall) with pretty strong secondary sex characteristics, and I frequently feel physically threatened (which isn't really true) or that I am being sexualized against my will (which is). Mine, of course, is also not the typical experience.

    But do I think that all sexism based problems are systemic- not as in a conspiracy, but as in a default. The system is geared towards men, and within the system, men are the default.

    Have we made strides? Yes. But portraying feminists as ineffective and whiny seems counterproductive.

  2. Anonymous - Hey, I'm short too! And I have been threatened at times (hell, I've been held at gunpoint!) but I've never felt it was a "system" thing, and here's why: the vast majority of men would be appalled at what happened at me. We have certain men who point guns at women, but we do not have a culture that thinks that's okay.

    I agree that male is the "default" gender, but coming in second place is becoming increasingly tolerable. As good? No, as I said, feminism is far from done. But being female is not, in itself, a curse.

    It ain't a "portrayal," it's what I think certain people under the name of feminism (no, not all feminists!) do. Being ineffective and whiny is even more counterproductive than pointing it out.

  3. I think the line that should not be crossed lies between 'women should be considered equal to men by default' and 'our entire culture is worthless because it is the result of eons of oppression.'

  4. I think it's a bit like the Unions. They gave us so much and yet are so much weaker (and even despised by some) today. Institutions just likely have an "effectiveness" half-life that fades over time. We still need them, they just aren't quite the prime-movers they once were.

  5. Sounds a whole lot like my feminism, Holly (like that's a surprise). I can't figure out what the hell there is to gain from making like the advances that have been made don't exist. Why are they turning that dead horse into hamburger, when there are very real things that haven't been fully addressed yet?

    I don't altogether agree that we've got sexism mostly down to the individual, rather than systemic, level, though. Using your own example, the vast majority of men a century ago would also have been appalled about a woman being held at gunpoint - but they would have been appalled for sexist reasons (as are many of the appalled ones today). There's still a lot of stuff built into the cultural narrative (a system). (Though I think part of the point I'm making is that we've come far enough that it's more productive to distinguish institutional sexism from systemic sexism than to conflate them.)

    The "cultural narrative" stuff can be hard to see (does a fish notice water?) - I took years getting a handle on it, because the way I was raised, my sense of having agency is fully internalized. Like you, when I experience sexism, I don't feel oppressed, I feel annoyed at whatever individual dipshit is pulling that crap; it's harder to look behind it and see the cultural reasons why dipshit thinks he can get away with it, or maybe doesn't think about it at all - and even when I do look behind it, I still feel annoyed rather than oppressed.


  6. Here Here Holly!

    I could never understand the feminists that whine about being victims blah blah blah. I'm tall and I'm fat, I couldn't be more fucked up in terms of the female sterotype, and perhaps that works to my advantage...

    I choose an educational path that had me in classes with 90% males, and all male professors. Then I chose a field that was dominated by men. No one I was ever schooled with/by or worked with has EVER made me feel like I was anything other than another student/co-worker. I've never been set apart for being 'a girl'. I've always recieved the same treatment, the same respect. So I really don't understand what many feminists talk about.

    I do understand that mine is not the normal experience. Perhaps if I was shorter, or prettier, or whatever thing would be different... *Shrug*

    I DO think feminism has done lots of wonderful things, I'm a person, under the law, I can vote, I can become anything I want to be, and feminism gave that to me. We've made great progress. We aren't done however.... Religious zealots and right wing nut jobs want to take our human rights away, men and womens, but the pick on us first. Taking away our right to choose, making it impossible for us to get medical treatment, banning women from the classroom (not here, but in other countries). It's all just so damn wrong. And THAT is where we as a whole society need to focus our energies. We can't let it continue.. Gods know what they will come after next..

    *gets off the crate-like pulpet*

  7. It's great that you're happy. However, I'm sure that bad things have happened to you because you're female; you just haven't realized it. For instance, I didn't realize how much of American media was built on women and girls stimulating white heterosexual males until I was watching High School Musical 2. I couldn't tell you how many times I have watched the video of "I Don't Dance" and appreciated the all-male choreography. The actors are all of age, so it's okay. But I can't think of anything other tv show or movie that came out in the past decade that involved male artists performing for the entertainment of women and girls. No wonder I like(d) Backstreet Boys so much.

    Everything from soda to sports to electronics, even apartments(!), have been marketed with female models or female actors looking sexually alluring. That wreaks havoc with your psyche as a woman, and it affects how other people--both men and women--think of you and whether they treat you with respect. You might not notice it, but it's out there. You probably just haven't recognized it yet.

  8. So. You've never been groped by someone you didn't want to touch you? You've never been taken advantage of at a party whilst you've been drunk? You've never been told that you can't read a map, play a computer game, drive a car, argue rationally, do maths or tell jokes? You've never wondered why all your favourite bands have male guitarists, and all the gigs that you go to are full of men? You've never wondered why all women on adverts are overtly sexual, whilst the men are just... men? You've never wondered why it is ok for men to talk about wanking in public as a joke, but if you bring up your body it immediately becomes something to make sexual comments about?

    I cannot be bothered to go on. To conclude - why even bother to call yourself a feminist, if you can't even see why feminism is needed?